Achalasia – how physiotherapy can help
A few months ago I was chatting to a woman I’d met a few times at various networking meetings and she mentioned she had a condition called achalasia which is quite unusual. The lower oesophageal (bottom of the oesophagus ) muscles and sphincter start to degenerate and, critically, the nerves which control these muscles. Patients commonly have problems swallowing, chest pain and regurgitate food and drink. She explained how she’d had surgery which had only been temporarily successful and how frustrated she was and concerned about her subsequent weight loss.
I don’t think she expected me to offer to help!
But the wonderful thing about the tools that I have gathered together at the clinic is that I can genuinely lay claim to the term Muscolskeletal Specialist. Anything to do with muscles, joints and a large amount of nerve issues – I can probably help!
We had a good look at her and found there were some issues in the thoracic spine (where the nerves that control the oesophagus come from!). So this was causing nerve compromise as well as encouraging a hunched over position which wasn’t giving the muscles room to move and work properly. By resolving these issues we were able to make huge progress. And help her get her weight back up so she was strong enough for the next surgery to have a brilliant result. If you’re in pretty good shape BEFORE surgery you have a much higher chance of success.
In 2012 I started to have problems eating, finding myself regurgitating food and liquids from time to time at first, then getting significantly worse over time until I found it hard to even drink a glass of water and was bringing up food at least 10 times a day, sometimes choking during the night on my dinner from hours before.
I was diagnosed with achalasia, a paralysis of the throat and closing of the valve at the top of the stomach and after a long wait I had a procedure to stretch my throat and break open the valve at the top of my stomach. This helped things considerably, however, over time it started to get worse again, and the doctor didn’t give me much hope that I would ever be able to eat normally again.
After a really bad month, I started to look for alternatives, and having known Estelle for years, asked whether she thought she might be able to help. I don’t think I would have asked if I didn’t know her personally, as I associate physiotherapy with issues such as bad backs or knees. However, she responded to my hesitant enquiry so positively that I arranged an appointment for a consultation right away.
It was amazing that she related a bad fall I had with the issue, I really hadn’t connected those two issues, but the timing and her theory made sense and when she showed me how tight my back was and how one shoulder was hunched and my whole body was out of line, I couldn’t believe it – how did I never notice that before!
After lots of unsympathetic and cold doctors, Estelle’s calm positivity, care and sympathy was wonderful, I knew I was in safe hands. She was realistic and said that we couldn’t know the full extent of the results until we got started, but I thought that even if she just helps me loosen my back and walk straighter that’s got to be a good thing, so we decided to go ahead and schedule an appointment for the treatment.
Estelle started first by confirming her initial diagnosis with a full body scan, which identified an area of heat around my shoulder and lower back, very cold extremities and a cold area around my throat where the issue was. This didn’t mean much to me, but she explained that the constriction in my shoulder and thoracic spine could be stopping the nerves doing what they should and sending messages to my throat to swallow and that if we could relax that area, and loosen up my back that we should get results.
She treated me on a weekly basis for two months, using massage, lymphatic drainage and the mobiliser. All the way through the treatment she gave me hope and reassurance that things could be better and offered loads of advice about things I could do about other areas of my life to improve things.
I remember that after the second treatment I left feeling lighter and more relaxed than I had done for ages and I was able to eat more than I had for over a year – it was amazing! It took time, but after each session I felt more able to cope and could slowly start to eat more. I was also able to discuss with her ways to manage eating, minimise the stress and tension and take steps to prepare to eat with exercises. Thanks to her treatment I was able to eat Christmas dinner with my family and actually enjoy it, which was a huge step for me.
After my treatment with Estelle I felt braver and ready to take the next step, as she had shown me that I could improve and should do everything I could to be well and healthy. So after consulting with her I decided to take the plunge and have surgery. She has been checking in on me regularly and I know that I can always go back to her if the symptoms reoccur, but it has now been 3 months since the surgery and I am feeling better than ever and really enjoying life. I have Estelle and Bodyworks to thank for helping me find the answers and the courage to tackle this issue head on and would recommend them to anyone!